The Cilantro Controversy

, written by us flag

Cilantro

Whether you call it coriander or cilantro, Coriandrum sativum is a controversial plant. If you were to line up six people and ask their opinion, four would praise the sprightly flavor of cilantro leaves, and two would make awful faces and come up with a descriptive phrase like this one, posted in response to a recent story in the New York Times: "mildewed canvas deck chair combined with the flavor of old window screen."

The controversial flavor problem has been traced to differences in aroma and taste perception, with some people missing the floral notes that make cilantro leaves taste and smell good. This may be a genetic trait, but it is subject to change. One of your two cilantro haters may eventually change their minds, while the other will forever consider cilantro to be a vile insult to the taste buds.  The lesson here is simple: don't plan a dinner for guests without checking their coriander status first.

 Cilantro in the Garden

European gardeners refer to coriander as coriander, while Americans call the leafy juvenile form cilantro and speak of coriander when growing plants for seeds. It's a handy distinction for gardeners, because this species is always in a hurry to produce flowers and seeds when grown in spring. The "cilantro stage" passes very quickly when days are getting longer and warmer, with most plants showing signs of bolting after 50 to 60 days in the garden.  To have a continuous supply, you must keep planting more seeds. When the weather warms in summer, you can keep new crops coming by growing cilantro in the shade of taller plants like tomatoes.

As long as cilantro insists on bolting, a strong case can be made for allowing a pair of plants from your early spring planting to bloom and set seeds (the seed-to-seed process takes about 120 days).  Clusters of white coriander blossoms make tremendous nectar plants for bees and butterflies, and a single well-grown coriander plant will yield about 400 seeds.  Best of all, the seeds ripen just in time for late summer planting. When the mature seeds dry to tan, I crumble the seed-bearing branches where I want my fall crop to grow, as well as places where I would like to see cilantro seedlings in spring. Handled this way, coriander is one of the most successful reseeding crops in my garden.

Cilantro roots
The edible roots of coriander or cilantro make a crisp snack or can be chopped and cooked in soups

Coriander Myths

Coriander is often listed among plants that are difficult to transplant, but this is not true. Young plants seeded into pots or lifted from the garden transplant with ease. However, elderly plants purchased in stores typically bolt as soon as they are set out, which frustrates new gardeners and makes them think they have done something wrong. Because it grows so rapidly, coriander is one plant that should be grown from seed rather than from purchased seedlings of unknown age.

Coriander is often named as a good companion plant for potatoes, and a recent study from Poland suggests that coriander may help repel Colorado potato beetles – great news since the two plants grow on the same spring-to-summer schedule. Coriander is also said to discourage aphids, which may be true in an indirect way. Coriander flowers attract beneficial hover flies, the larvae of which eat aphids like candy.

Eating It All

When plants are young, you can harvest perfect cilantro leaves as you need them in the kitchen by pinching them off. Then, as soon as you see a central stalk beginning to form in the plants' centers, pull plants that are not being grown for seed, roots and all. Crisp white cilantro roots are often used to make Thai soups, but I like eating them raw, as a garden snack.

An overabundance of cilantro leaves is best preserved by freezing, because cilantro does not hold its flavor well when dried. Some people make cilantro pesto and freeze the excess in small containers, or you can toss clean, dry leaves with a little canola oil and freeze them.  A fresh batch of cilantro salsa is never more than a few moments away.

Coriander seeds
Coriander seeds, freshly crushed add a wonderful flavor to cooking

Coriander seeds have plenty of uses, too. Indian curries rely on the warm, citrusy notes provided by coriander seeds, which should always be crushed or ground just before using because of rapid loss of flavor compounds. Healthwise, a case can be made for crushing up a few seeds and tossing them into every pot of rice. In one study, coriander helped diabetic rats produce insulin. In another, ground coriander seeds lowered blood cholesterol in rats fed a high fat diet. Not what cilantro haters want to hear, but they can always seek the comfort of supportive friends, like those who write anti-cilantro haikus or wear I Hate Cilantro clothing. Sadly, they will never know what they're missing.

By Barbara Pleasant

Plants Related to this Article

Bugs, Beneficial Insects and Plant Diseases

< All Guides

Garden Planning Apps

If you need help designing your vegetable garden, try our Vegetable Garden Planner.
Garden Planning Apps and Software

Vegetable Garden Pest Warnings

Want to Receive Alerts When Pests are Heading Your Way?

If you've seen any pests or beneficial insects in your garden in the past few days please report them to The Big Bug Hunt and help create a warning system to alert you when bugs are heading your way.

Show Comments



Comments

 
"Love the stuff... we have reseeded plants coming again this year. I put it in our salads too. I have not tried freezing but will now that I have read the article. Thanks."
Debbi on Saturday 29 May 2010
"I love Cilantro.. especially in salsa! http://mysquarefootgardenadventure.blogspot.com Thanks for the great post!"
Toni on Sunday 30 May 2010
"excellent, excelent!!"
Kelly minnick on Wednesday 2 June 2010
"I cannot grow enough...delicious"
Trish on Friday 4 June 2010
"Thanks for informing me about the short life of the leaves. Mine always seeds so quickly, I could never use it for salsa. Now I know! Love the smell and flavor!"
Tammy Carter on Friday 4 June 2010
"Thank you!!! This article was very informative!!!! I thought I was doing something wrong because it seeds/flowers so quickly. Now I know!! It's just the way it grows. I love cilantro!!! I use it in Mexican/Soutwest and Asian cooking! I used to think it was very strong, but now I embrace the fresh citrusy flavor!!!"
Jodi D on Friday 4 June 2010
"How do you freeze it? (Great article by the way - going to try planting some in between two potato boxe)"
Linda on Sunday 15 May 2011
"Chop coriander leaves and add a little olive oil. Pack into ice cube trays and freeze. When frozen take out and store in plastic bag in freezer. Also works well for basil of all varieties."
Atharva on Wednesday 23 May 2012
"for the first time ever, i have no colorado beetles destoying my potatoes. growing amongst them is loads of coriander, so perhaps the polish study is correct!!"
helen perkins on Monday 28 May 2012
"Coriander leaf is great for reducing guilt. That is why so many coriander recipes are called guilt free. Coriander is high in many vitamins and minerals, folic acid, 5-hydroxytryptophan, and is one of the highest natural sources of S-adenosyl-L-methionine. Each of these separately has been clinically tested for relieving the feelings of guilt. When they are combined in this superfood, coriander relieves guilt like no other! It is great to have coriander growing near the kitchen to cook into a "guilt free" recipe when needed! "
Matt from Canberra on Sunday 15 September 2013
"Best thing to do with coriander? Straight in the bin. it's disgusting!"
Tim on Friday 30 January 2015
"I adore coriander, but I completely get that some flavours divide us. I cannot stand lemongrass, which is an ingredient some people rave about...!"
Fiona Fleming on Saturday 13 June 2015

Add a Comment

Add your own thoughts on the subject of this article:
(If you have difficulty using this form, please use our Contact Form to send us your comment, along with the title of this article.)

 
   
(We won't display this on the website or use it for marketing)



Captcha


(Please enter the code above to help prevent spam on this article)



By clicking 'Add Comment' you agree to our Terms and Conditions